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Sophora molloyi facts for kids

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Sophora molloyi
Cook Strait kōwhai (Dragon's Gold pictured)
Conservation status
Invalid status (NZ TCS)
Scientific classification
S. molloyi
Binomial name
Sophora molloyi
Heenan & de Lange

Cook Strait kōwhai (Sophora molloyi), also known as Molloy's kōwhai or Stephen's Island kōwhai, is one of 8 species of kōwhai native to New Zealand, and grows naturally around the Cook Strait region. It was first described as a species in 2001 and named after Dr. Brian Molloy of Landcare Research, who was a researcher and scientist there for more than 30 years.


Cook Strait kōwhai forms a small compact bush and can become quite wide but only grows to about head height. It is an early flowering species, normally between April and October. Flowers are yellow and around 3 cm long. Unlike other kōwhai, S. molloyi retains its leaves all year round, and does not have a divaricating juvenile stage when grown from seed.


Using the New Zealand Threat Classification System, S. molloyi was rated in 2012 as being "at risk – naturally uncommon". Cook Strait kōwhai was previously rated in 2004 as being at risk due to its restricted range. This classification remains as of 2017.


In horticulture it is sold as the two varieties Dragons Gold and Early Gold, which were both sourced from Stephens Island and are now popular garden plants.

  • The cultivar Dragons Gold was selected by Terry Hatch of Joy Plants and came from material sourced from Stephens Island in the 1950s. The original plant the cultivar was grown from eventually grew to 6 metres in height although 2 m is more usual within the first 10 years. It is an excellent plant for covering difficult banks and places with poor soil and has clusters of bright yellow flowers. The naming of this cultivar commemorates Stephens Island's numerous tuatara, likening it to an 'isle of dragons'.
  • The cultivar Early Gold is an earlier selection made by the late John Goldie, and is again sourced from seedlings raised from Stephens Island. It is similar to Dragons Gold but has paler, lemony yellow-coloured flowers. This cultivar was under Plant Variety Rights for some time, but these have now expired.

S. molloyi makes a good container plant due to its smaller size, because it retains its leaves year-round and flowers over winter when few other plants are flowering.

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